Don’t balk at that image yet, guys: it’s here to prove a point about lessons learned.
First of all: hi! I’m back in DC preparing for a new semester, which starts tomorrow. I cannot believe that my time off flew by like this: it really does feel as though I took my chem final yesterday. Thanks so much for the fun and warm responses to my Vida Vegan Con posts (here and here, if you’re catching up). I have at least two more to share, but today I wanted to take a break to talk about a recent change here at CR.
A few of you have noticed that I switched my main blog advertiser from FoodBuzz to BlogHer. Observant readers! It’s true: as of a few weeks ago, I officially ended my relationship with Foodbuzz. The reason? Meat, chicken, and diary ads were repeatedly showing up on my site, and I had no authority to ensure that they would be blocked in the future. Many of you noticed this and emailed me, tweeted, or commented. I tried to explain that I was doing my best to persuade Foodbuzz to let their food bloggers exert some control over ad content. I didn’t get far.
Before I go any further, let me make clear that Foodbuzz is not the Goliath in this story, and I am no David. It is nowhere stated in the Foodbuzz contract or language that vegan bloggers (or any other specialized group) can control their ad content, and veto at will. What Foodbuzz promises is that, if ads are offensive to a blogger or his or her audience, they will do their best to take them down in a timely fashion. And they always did this for me when I complained.
By the time a Tyson chicken ad showed up on CR, though, I was becoming frustrated and dismayed that Foodbuzz wouldn’t consider changing company policy to allow bloggers the chance to state clear preferences about ad content: it was my understanding that many other advertisers do. And I hoped that if I and other vegan bloggers took a firm stand, we could perhaps impress upon Foodbuzz that, in our day and age, specialized eaters (vegans, vegetarians, eaters with food allergies) are growing in numbers; shouldn’t a truly forward-thinking publishing program try to accommodate these groups?
Now, I realize that there is a slippery slope to beware of here: if everyone were to start offering up special requests, any ad program might easily become bombarded. Who’s to say an onion-hater won’t ask for ads without onion, and so forth? But I think that there are crucial differences between veganism, which is an ethical position, and preferences of taste. I don’t endorse or like processed food, but I could live with an ad for Lays potato chips or king sized bags of Twizzlers on my blog. A steak, on the other hand, pushes the limits of my conscience. (OK, I realize as I’m typing that even this is complicated: both Lays and Twizzlers are made by large corporations, and neither is organic, and it’s conceivable that both can ultimately impact human health…but try to assume that I’m drawing a difference here between the troubling and the totally unacceptable.) Asking a company or institution to respect one’s veganism is a bit like requesting a religious accommodation: when I sit out of animal dissections this fall in biology lab, I’ll most likely be joined by other vegans and kids who are opting out because their religion discourages dissection.
Even if you think this comparison is extreme, the point remains: can’t there be a way for an advertising network to respect its bloggers’ ethics without becoming bogged down in micro-preferences and fancies? I think so: it simply requires a willingness to labor over and define boundaries. Just as many institutions and organizations have managed to accommodate different faiths without falling prey to the self-interested, so too can ad networks respect groups like vegans and vegetarians without becoming entirely consumed by the demands of individual taste. Tons of ad networks, Blogher included, already do.
Of course, a company has a right to opt out of such accommodations if it wishes to. It may be my opinion that FoodBuzz would benefit from allowing vegan bloggers to opt out of meat and dairy ads, but it’s not their policy, and that’s fine: they never said it was. I simply tired of the conflict this created for me: how could I write about animal rights on my blog, and monetize meat ads on my sidebar?
I contacted the folks at Blogher, who were more than happy to welcome me into their family. BlogHer has excellent policies when it comes to honoring their bloggers’ preferences and world views: one can opt out of not only ads for animal products, but also ads for fast food, for religious products, for birth control, for political parties, and quite a few other groups (naturally, you risk limiting your revenue if you check too many boxes here). The folks at BlogHer have warned me that occasionally an ad will fall through the cracks; that’s fine, I said. I’m not interested in occasional oversights or errors. I’m interested in the company’s basic policy and practices.
As excited as I am to join BlogHer, I’m sorry to leave Foodbuzz (and told them as much). The company believed in me and supported me when I was a fledgling blogger with no readers at all, and I think it does wonderful things within the food blog community: it connects, excites, and celebrates its publishers in a lovely way. It pays bloggers generously, and I even recommended it to Chloe when she began her blog. But I don’t think it’s the right choice for vegan bloggers—at least not vegan bloggers who object to advertising animal products to their readers.
I have no clue how my modest blog income will change from this move. There is a good chance that I won’t earn as much as I was, but I have no details as of yet, and I really can’t give you a monetary comparison of FoodBuzz and Blogher as networks. What I can tell you is that Blogher has a really progressive attitude toward taking into account its bloggers’ beliefs, and that you should get in touch with the company if you find yourself in need of a publisher who demonstrates such flexibility.
So why am I bringing all this up? Not to critique Foodbuzz, who for the record was gracious about my departure. I’m writing it to thank you all for having challenged me on the ads. Those of you who did were directly responsible for my leaving FoodBuzz (you guys, that is, and Katie, who had the guts to do it a while ago). Quite a few of you noted the animal food ads, and spoke up: I’m glad you did, because you reminded me that sometimes being vegan (or having any other kind of conviction) means taking steps that may have inconvenient repercussions, or changing arrangements that are comfortable.
I want to thank you, too, for reminding me why I blog. I didn’t start CR blog to make money; I started it because I’m obsessed with veganism and raw food, and I wanted to inspire other people to love them as much as I do. It became a business, and it clearly still is one, but CR remains first and foremost a passion project for me. Even if I were I to nix ads and stop generating any income at all—in spite of med school loans, and in spite of the fact that I don’t have a day job anymore—I would still write this blog. I write it because I love it; because I want to share a compassionate message; because I want to touch the lives of women who suffer with EDs; because I adore my readers and our thoughtful dialogs; and because it’s the one thing left in my life (aside from reading) that connects me to the written word.
This past weekend, during our positive blogging workshop, there was a lot of talk about negative comments. How do you deal with them politely? Do you delete them? Etc. I find that we bloggers often talk about what we do with negative commentary that’s spiteful and/or inappropriate, but we rarely talk about the negative comments we get that are totally valid and on-point.
I get a lot. You guys are really good at calling me out when I get too heated, when I get sloppy and generalize, when I get snarky and lack compassion, or when I fail to see another point of view. You always have been. And I love it. I don’t blog to feel celebrated or popular; I don’t expect you all to tell me how great I am or puff up my ego. I love our conversations because you make me see viewpoints that I might otherwise ignore, and you offer counter-arguments that make me think. Some of my best exchanges were with readers who challenged me: Elizabeth pointed out that my What Food is Not post came close to taking the pleasure and joy out of eating, and it was from her comment that my Embracing Our Appetites post emerged. One reader emailed me to say that she found me proud, lacking in humility; two years later, we still email, because that remark generated a wonderful and illuminating correspondence. A reader who once told me that she found my blog triggering is now one of my loveliest regular commenters; she forced me to reexamine moments where I was speaking in broad strokes about diet.
The point is, I don’t just write this blog to inspire or inform: I also write it to be inspired and informed by the people who read it.
So thank you, all of you, who had the guts to point out that the meat and chicken ads were out of keeping with my message (yes, even you angry tweeters). I needed to hear it, and it means a lot to me that you take my blog seriously enough to have challenged me. I hope you’ll find that my ads are more in sync with the spirit of CR; when something does fall through the cracks (as I’m sure it will) just say so, and I’ll ask for it to be taken down. I can’t promise perfection, but I can promise you a new ad policy, and no matter what, I can promise that I’ll be listening. I always am.